Saturday, 6 November 2010
What I saw today was farcical – but sinister. Responding to a reader who’d suggested I might want to come down to cover a protest outside the new Shepherd’s Bush library I was anticipating a quick 10 minute job after the gym and to be on my way. I didn’t really know the details of what the librarians were protesting about but assumed I’d find out and that it probably had something to do with pay.
Arriving at the library I saw no more than about 5 people, 4 of whom were women, handing out the odd leaflet. Having introduced myself I was in the process of interviewing one of the women, an assistant librarian who works at the library and was taking part in the protest on her break. All was calm and I began to understand the issues - essentially they are having their pay reduced and being told to accept new terms and conditions about which I will post again later because what happened next was the thing that dominated the rest of the proceedings.
For five large men in black bomber jackets and suits had by now turned up and were angrily insisting that the two women they’d cornered by a lamppost leave at once. Catching sight of me interviewing said assistant librarian one of them marched towards me, demanded I stop recording the interview and actually rested his hands menacingly on my chest as he purposefully leaned forward into my face to tell me that if I didn’t leave right away the next step would be to call the police. I’d had my one and final warning he informed me, eyes narrowed. When I asked him what the warning was for, Nathan – according to his name badge and the guy in the video above – told me I was on private property and was very much not welcome. This was the message being put forcefully to the other protestors, who pointed out that most of them worked inside the public library they were stood outside. No matter, said the heavies, they didn’t have Westfield’s permission and had to leave. Now.
It took three requests for young Nathan to take his hands off me before he did, and this may have had something to do with my explanation that I wasn’t part of the protest or, more likely, the police constable who’d by now appeared on the scene.
At this point the whole demeanour of the heavies changed as if by magic. The policeman would have had a glittering career in the diplomatic service if he’d taken another path, patiently pointing out that yes, this was private property but that the heavies themselves, to use his words, had to “find a compromise”. The protestors wanted to follow their instructions and leave what was clearly Westfield land but continue their protest on the pavement. Westfield’s henchmen were having none of it – Westfield owned the pavement too, they said. At this point the policeman looked incredulous and repeated his request for a calm compromise, and even radioed the dialogue he’d just had back to the station, presumably to be recorded.
At this point, realising they were unable to push the protestors completely out of sight, the heavies eventually just drifted off leaving everyone, including the policeman I suspect, bemused.
As the gaggle of protestors now congregated on the pavement sharing their experiences with Westfield’s finest, we heard tell of one woman who’d actually been chased down the street because one of the henchmen had wanted to seize her camcorder. Funny how they didn’t try that one on me; can’t imagine why. These were big men so long as they could pick on women, and do so without the police watching.
Perhaps predictably Labour Leader Stephen Cowan also put in an appearance to support the librarians. He hadn’t arrived in time to see the heavies at work but said "it raises big questions" about people's right to protest about a public service.
And what does this say about our new “public” library? That there is an industrial dispute is something I’ll return to later and there will be two valid sides to the argument, but for the time being it seems that what was described by Westfield as a “goodwill gesture” in building the new library – comes with strings attached. Don’t hang around outside and certainly don’t protest about anything. Or else.
On the other hand if you're the Council and filming a good news video about the library - you're very welcome indeed. Here's some more footage from the reader who is commenter number three in the comments section to this article:
Posted by Chris Underwood at 18:42